A Colonial Time Capsule

In 1795, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere placed a box under the foundation of the new Massachusetts State House.  On Tuesday, that box was opened — very carefully.

Inside, a conservator from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts found five folded newspapers, two dozen coins including a “Pine Tree Schilling” from 1652, a George Washington medal, a Massachusetts seal, and a silver plate made for the occasion by ace silversmith Paul Revere himself.  Even cooler, the silver plate has visible fingerprints on it . . . presumably those of the man whose famous midnight ride warned colonists that “the British are coming” and helped trigger the American Revolution.

Although news reports describe the box as a time capsule, technically that is not correct because time capsules are designed to be opened at a particular date — usually, a century or two later.  Instead, the box is part of a much more ancient tradition of putting material in the foundation of building.  That practice dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and, over the centuries, has been employed in the construction of colossal medieval cathedrals and, more recently, been adopted by fraternal organizations like the Masons.

Indeed, in 1793 George Washington laid such a ceremonial cornerstone in the foundation of the U.S. Capitol building.  That ceremonial cornerstone has never been found and its contents are unknown — although I’m guessing it has played a role in a Dan Brown-type novel or a Nicholas Cage movie.

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